I was deeply, deeply impressed by the sheer creativity coupled with the distinct professionalism of the entrants. Could hardly find fault with any of them, honestly; and the final decisions came down to some very, very fine hairsplitting judgements at the end of things.
Without going into too much detail, I'll simply show you what nine of the ten cocktails were. Sadly, I somehow lost one of them; chalk it up to poor photography. For the missing cocktail, I'll show the bartender instead.
And cocktails do a pretty good job of that as well...David Shenaut, Beaker and Flask/Central, with his cocktail "Thank You Santa, Love, Daddy", with New Deal Distillery Barley and Cane White Dog, Oaxaca mezcal, Mexican cinnamon, and Oaxaca Chocolate, all muddled together in a saucepan, poured and topped with cream flavored with mezcal and a chocolate star. Served hot on a cold and rainy night. Yum. Earthy and rich and warm and satisfying. (It might be apparent that David had just gotten back from a trip to Tequila and Oaxaca, and was still in the thrall of what he had discovered and brought back.)
Adam Robinson, Park Kitchen, entered his cocktail, the Black Friday Flip, created because he prefers a liquid dessert to a heavy one at Thanksgiving. It is composed of Cofia Hazelnut Espresso Infused Vodka, allspice, Libby's Pumpkin Pie Mix, and Rogue Shakespeare Stout, with a raw egg added, and shaken violently. It's a silky-soft and not too sweet alternative to pumpkin pie. Or with pumpkin pie even.
Heather Brady, from Thatch Tiki Bar. Heather, the Portland Queen of Tiki, showed she had plenty of style with other drinks as well, and whipped up a Red Berry White, a crisp and snappy mix of New Deal Gin #3, Cherry Heering, and Angostura bitters. Heather prefers her drinks simple and declarative, and that's what the Red Berry White was. And you gotta love the resurrection of Cherry Heering!
Michael Lorberbaum, of McMenamins Ringlers Annex Bar, offered up his Fireside Flip, made with Edgefield 8 year old Brandy, Edgefield Longshot Immature Brandy (aged less than 2 years), Fireside Dessert Zinfandel, demerara sugar, a raw egg, shaken, and garnished with a Fireside Zinfandel Syrup and nutmeg. Another silky flip, with creative use of the sweet, berry Zinfandel in and on the drink.
Neil Kopplin, of Clyde Common, and partner/co-creator of Imbue Oregon Vermouth, had to cancel his original cocktail at the last moment, so he browsed the floor of the NW Food and Wine Festival and came up with several inspirations---from which he created, on the spur of the moment, his cocktail "From the Hands of Buddha".
Neil selected Deco Ginger Rum, Hot Monkey Vodka by New Deal Distillery, Yuzu Luxe Sour, lime, and shavings of Buddha Hand Zest, over rocks. Damn tasty stuff too. Excellent with Dungeness crab sushi, which Neil scavenged for us, and worth replicating (which I hope Neil does for the summer).
Cute, perky, smiling Lindsay Matteson, from Mint/820, whipped up her cocktail, the Aurora Borealis, with New Deal #3 Gin (with juniper as the sole botanical!), POM pomegranate juice, Minx OJ Bitters (homemade, and the minx in question might just be Lindsay), orange juice, and a float of Gruet Brut Sparkling Wine from New Mexico. A sophisticated drink from a woman with sophisticated tastes.
Tommy Klus, of The Teardrop Lounge and Central, came in a relaxed mood, wearing his plaid robe for the holidays, and made what turned out to be the winning cocktail for the evening, the Feliz Noggy Nog, a confabulation of New Deal Mud Puddle Vodka (with fresh-roasted cacao beans placed in the vapor stream of the still during the making); Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal; Trader Tiki Cinnamon Syrup; Domain Schistes Maury 2007 (a dessert-like grenache from the Rhone; in a pinch, you can substitute a light port); xocolatl bitters; cinnamon; maraschino liqueur; and an egg. Klus dusted the top of the drink with nutmeg through a christmas tree stencil, then dusted it with lightly with sugar.
A dangerous, challenging drink to make, with all the differing ingredients, and with the potential for over-sweetness if not balanced---could be fraught with disaster, but Tommy pulled it off; the Feliz Noggy Nog was delicious: better than the best eggnog you've ever had, considerably lighter, and with considerably more complex flavors. A winner, as it turned out.
Allison Webber, from the Irving Street Kitchen, with her Winter Solstice, a gorgeous combination and balance of flavors. Allison started with her home-made reduction of apple cider, honey and thyme , added Edgefield Hedgehog Whiskey, Carpano Antica Formulae vermouth, Anchor Steam Christmas Ale, and Meyer Lemon. After a shake/shake/shake for a good head of foam, and a garnish of organic rose hips, she served up to unanimous oohs and ahhhs from the judges. The Winter Solstice had a superb balance of fruit, citrus, beer and spirits, and a great mouthfeel. And Allison took first runner up, just a shade away from Tommy's Feliz Noggy Nog.
Then came Jabriel Donohue, from Acadia, with his Honeyed Words. This time the gin of choice was Organic Nation, and the beer was a rare urbock rauchbier (made with smoked barley malt). Jabriel added some xocolatl bitters and honey, mixed, poured into tall, elegant, individual flutes, then topped with a beer and honey foam. Again, the judges were impressed: the drink was beautiful and inviting, delivering itself up in three stages; first, there was honey, then the clear bite of gin, then a nutty, malty beer flavor, and finally a hint of autumn smoke. Good enough for Jabriel to get second runner up. And it was close. Very close.
Mary Bartlett, from The Teardrop Lounge, making a big entrance with her own mini-boombox and custom music for the season, and plugging in a steam kettle for pre-heating the glasses for her Family Feud. Mary concocted a mixture of New Deal Mud Puddle Vodka, El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, agave syrup, Branca Menta, lemon juice...and then topped it off with a light sprinkle of Molokai Hawaiian Red Sea Salt. Chocolate, tequila, and mint: who knew? Apparently, Mary did.
It was a great competition, with some tremendous talent on display. Proof of that was the final judging, with all the contestants coming so close, with so little point difference amongst them, that it could truly be said that every one was a winner.